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Driverless shuttle bus arrives in city


Newcastle council has ushered in the future of automated transport with the arrival of a brand-new driverless shuttle bus.

The 11-seater vehicle was revealed for the first time at private operator Keolis Downer’s Hamilton depot last week.

The bus will undergo safety testing before passengers can enjoy the unique service along the harbour foreshore as part of a 12-month trial.

The trial is set to gauge demand for driverless vehicle operations and assess their suitability in mixed traffic and transport scenarios in Newcastle.

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it was a major milestone in the smart city journey.

“The city’s vision for a smart, integrated transport network begins in earnest with the arrival of this new driverless vehicle, which we propose connecting with Newcastle’s integrated public transport network,” she said.
“We are planning for passengers to be able to take in views of the city’s harbour along the proposed two-kilometre loop service from Watt Street along Wharf Road to Nobbys and back, making it very appealing to tourists.

“A larger circuit will include some of Newcastle’s other beachside destinations after a couple of months.

Keolis Downer New Mobilities manager Sue Wiblin said the trial was being developed in accordance with national and state legislation to ensure it met all safety standards.

“In-built computers and sensing systems capable of detecting obstacles, anticipating movement and evaluating risk of collision are what sets this vehicle apart from the risks associated with human-controlled cars,” she said.

“These systems are capable of detecting vehicle movement and are also able to determine the travel route, make decisions to slow down, brake, and alternate the vehicle’s path if required.”

A chaperone will be on board during operations to stop the vehicle via an override system if necessary.
In March, Newcastle Weekly spoke to University of Newcastle professor Kristen Pammer, who studies attentional allocation in driving, reading and dyslexia.

She believed the introduction of fully autonomous vehicles would lead to an increase in safety.

“It will save billions of dollars in terms of car crashes and injuries,” Professor Pammer said at the time.

“Then there’s the smart city development – it will reduce congestion, emissions, and make transport more efficient.

“But these [advantages] are really only going to become apparent once we have full autonomy and a connected system.

“Therein lies the problem – to get to that point.”

Professor Pammer argued potential issues could include hijackings of the computer system; legal implications if there was an injury or crash; and moral decision-making dilemmas when a human cannot take control.

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